Tami invited her sister to Dillon to keep Gracie entertained while she and Eric packed for their big move to Philadelphia. Had she known Shelley had recently broken up with her latest boyfriend, however, Tami would have found some other way to keep Gracie out of the moving boxes. Shelley never experienced a break-up without trailing a cloud of drama in her wake.
When she came in the foyer that morning, surprisingly enough, Shelley's first words weren't about her latest predictable relationship fracture. They were, instead, "Hey, Eric. I'll try not to record over any game tape this time."
"I've already boxed up the game tape," he grumbled. "And I bought you this." He extended her a wrapped gift. "Happy belated birthday."
Shelley tore into the paper to reveal a boxed set of Office DVDs. "Awwww! Eric!" She glanced at Tami. "Sometimes I briefly understand why you married him. Still think you should have married a lawyer though."
Eric clenched down on his teeth. "Well we all know how often you've needed one."
Shelley rolled her eyes. "One DUI, Eric. One. Eleven years ago. And I never hear the end of it."
Tami was torn between her own irritation at her sister and her instinctive desire to scold Eric for his irritation. In the end, she settled on silence.
Dinner was frenetic. What wasn't frenetic with Shelley? Part way through the meal, which they were having on paper plates and with plastic utensils, Tami looked at Eric and smiled sweetly. "Hon, I was looking at the boxes you labeled this afternoon, and I was just wondering…Did you put the china in a separate box from the everyday dinner plates?" They'd started packing before Shelley arrived, because she was late, as usual, and Tami was afraid they wouldn't finish before the movers came on Friday.
"No. I put them all in one box."
Tami's sweet southern smile faded and her tone turned serious. "I specifically told you not to do that, hon."
"Well I did," he said.
Shelley rested her fork on her plate and began singing, to the tune of 'On Top of Spaghetti', "Paaaassive aaaaggressive, paaaassive aaaagress-ive, now all we got left is, passive aaagress-ive. Well. It kind of rhymes."
Eric had glanced sternly and briefly at Shelley while she sung, but now he ignored her. "I don't see how it matters," he said to Tami.
"It's going to be harder when we unpack because we've got that separate dining room in the new place – "
"- Well, I think we can manage to walk the few - "
" – And the china requires more wrapping or it's going to break. If it's all crammed into one box, it's not safe."
"It'll be safe."
"I'm going to need you to repack those," Tami said decisively.
"I don't think – "
"- Thanks, sugar," Tami's sweet smile was back. "I appreciate it. And while you're repacking them, put in those cups from the upper cupboard with the everyday stuff."
Eric cut into his food roughly.
"Oh, and did you forget to take out the trash again, babe?"
Eric's plastic knife tore the paper plate beneath it, and sauce seeped onto the table.
Shelley glanced from Tami to Eric. "I qualified as a Zumba instructor," she said. "I'll teach Gracie some exercises tomorrow while you guys are packing."
"What on earth is zumba?" Eric asked.
"Oh, I'll get Tami to do it too. Don't worry. It's great exercise, and you'll love it, Eric, trust me. All the guys in the gym love to stop by the glass windows and watch the class for a few minutes."
"This doesn't sound like something I want you teaching Gracie."
Shelley continued to chatter on about the virtues of Zumba, and how she was considering taking some continuing education classes so she could also set up shop as a nutrition consultant, and how her ex-boyfriend didn't appreciate her quitting her data entry job to pursue these dreams, and so forth and so on. Eric's eyes glazed over, but Tami managed to get a word in edge wise.
However much Shelley annoyed her, Tami was excited to see her sister. It had been a while. Tami's enthusiasm for sisterly bonding, however, was dampened when they retired to the living room and Shelley pulled out the gifts. The younger Hayes had, naturally, brought multiple items for Gracie, the perfect thing to do when a family was trying to get rid of junk in order to move.
Gracie was shredding the paper off of her third "just because I'm your aunt and I can" gift at the present moment. Eric was sitting in his recliner and drinking a beer and staring at the blank television screen, because he didn't have any game tape, and the cable had already been canceled – Tami's idea, to motivate them to get packing faster.
Gracie held up the pair of shorts she'd uncovered, a cute, bright pink, toddler affair, but when she turned it, Eric saw the words written across the ass in multi-colored letters: "Cutie."
"Hell no," he said, and grabbed them out of Gracie's hand, which caused her to weep.
"Eric, what was that?" Shelley asked.
"Listen, Shelley," Tami said, trying to play the peace maker, "we really appreciate the gift, but we kind of have a strict no-words-on-the-butt rule around here."
Eric took the shorts and threw them in the kitchen trash, leaving Tami to comfort and attempt to reason with Gracie. When he returned, he put a hand on his little girl's head, "Sorry, Gracie Belle, sweetie, it's for your own good. Daddy'll get you a cute little dress. I promise okay?" She glared up at him through her tears and he sighed.
He leaned down and kissed his wife's lips, and then kissed Gracie's head. "Think I'm gonna…go repack those kitchen boxes."
"Yeah," Tami said. "You do that, sugar. Good idea. Get a little…distance."
He nodded and disappeared into the kitchen.
When Gracie had calmed down, Eric read her bedtime stories and tucked her in, but he avoided Shelley and Tami's chattering in the living room and claimed to be turning in early for bed.
Over a shared bottle of wine, Shelley had just unraveled the last detail of her latest calamitous break-up, with a few tears and dramatic flourishes, and Tami was now offering a few friendly words of wisdom in her soft, I-care-about-you counselor's tone.
"Sometimes I hate seeing you and Eric together," Shelley said suddenly, causing Tami's words to dissolve. "You're so damn in love with each other."
For a moment, Tami sat in stunned silence. She knew she and Eric had a good, solid marriage, but they hadn't exactly been in best form this evening, and Shelley regularly poked fun of Eric and at Tami's choice of him. "Shelley – "
"- It just doesn't seem fair. I mean, I don't know what you see in him sometimes, Tami, honest to God, he's so irritable and tight-lipped and totally obsessed with one stupid sport, but it's obvious he loves you. It's obvious he's devoted to you and he'll always be there for you, and I just don't understand why I've never found anything like that, because you aren't exactly smart about relationships."
"Excuse me?" Tami's counselor's tone had vanished. Her voice was all annoyed-sister now.
"That Mo guy you dated who cheated on you and still you kept going out with him for like six months even when you had to know he was stepping out on you? And then the way you're so domineering with Eric – "
"Excuse me? Domineering?"
"I mean, seriously, Tami, you need to let Eric be the man more often. You totally cut him off when you disagree with him, and I've seen it, he just shuts up and gets this look in his eyes like he's really irritated with you but he's afraid to say anything. And you know he's got to be stuffing it. You should show him more respect or at least pretend to."
"Excuse me? You don't think I show my husband enough respect?"
"Because he's a good-looking guy, Tami. I mean, not as good looking as the guys I usually date, but seriously above average. And he's a big time high school football coach. He was on a magazine cover. And he has got to have women coming on to him from time to time. And when he has women flirting with him and admiring him and then he comes home to you and you're all Eric, why didn't you pack the china and everyday dishes in separate boxes, why didn't you take out the trash, why didn't you do this, why didn't you do that - "
"- Shelley! That is enough!"
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I got carried away. I don't know. I'm just jealous, I guess. Stupid, huh?"
Tami didn't say anything. She crossed her arms over herself and stared fiercely at the empty red plastic cup that had previously held her wine.
"You girls have a nice chat?" Eric asked when Tami came to bed later. He placed the book he'd been reading on the end table. Tomorrow, all but a handful of books would go in boxes.
Had he heard the bickering all the way down the hall? Well, the bickering had only lasted for five minutes. Then there had been five minutes of silence, five minutes of exchanged apologies, followed by a good forty minutes of laughter and fond memory sharing.
"Eric, sugar, you know I respect you, right?" Tami asked as she slid up next to him and leaned back against the headboard.
"Sure. Some of the time."
"Some of the time?" she asked, her voice rising slightly in pitch.
"I meant most of the time."
"No, not most of the time," she insisted. "I respect you all of the time. I respect you! I absolutely do!"
"Okay, you do! You respect me. All of the time." He turned off the light on his end table, eased down under the blankets, and rested his head on the pillow with his back to her. "G'night."
"Oh, God," she moaned. She put her face in her hands and mumbled, "I do cut you off, don't I?"
He rolled around. "What the hell is going on with you?" he asked, lifting his head to look at her.
"Do you think I'm domineering?"
He put his cheek back down on his pillow and muttered, "I am not going to answer that."
"Why not? Is the answer yes? Is that why?"
"I don't think any answer I give you will keep me out of trouble, so I'm not answering."
"What? You're not going to get in trouble. I can calmly consider whatever you have to say."
"What? Why are you laughing? I can!"
He turned his head all the way so his mouth was face down in his pillow and continued to laugh. She shook him, "Eric? Do you really think that? Do you really think I'm domineering?"
He raised himself up on his elbows and turned to look at her. "Baby, you certainly aren't meek, but that does not mean you're domineering. Now where is this coming from?"
"Just something Shelley hinted."
"Shelley doesn't hint," Eric observed.
"Okay. Something she said. Directly."
"Tami, baby, you've got to stop letting your sister get to you." He rolled over on his back and she eased down next to him and put her head on his chest.
"Eric?" she asked.
"I just want you to know how much I admire you. I do. I admire you and I respect you. You're a good husband, a loving father, a talented coach, a considerate lover, and a damn sexy man." He had begun to sit up slightly and was now looking down at her. She concluded, "And I don't care how you pack the rest of the boxes."
He smiled. "Ohhhhkaaay," he laughed. "A'ight. Thanks. I love you too." She lifted her head and kissed him. "Does this mean you want to fool around?" he asked hopefully.
"Sure," she said with a satirical smile. "But only if I get to be on top."
If you enjoy my fanfiction, please check out my novels at Amazon. They are available in both paperback and Kindle editions.
Off Target by Molly Taggart
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